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Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Page: 1322

Senator MILNE (5:06 PM) —Did the opposition intend to change ‘Infrastructure Australia is to perform a function’ to ‘Infrastructure Australia may perform a function’? That is a serious change that I had not picked up when I was discussing this amendment with Senator Allison, because what it means is that there is no requirement for Infrastructure Australia to do as the minister asks.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN —Senator Milne, would it help if I asked the clerks to give you a copy of sheet 5463 listing the opposition amendments?

Senator MILNE —So am I to understand that it is ‘may’, then?

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN —The amended clause under opposition amendment (2) is now part of the bill.

Senator MILNE —Thank you. In that case, I am really alarmed that we have gone from saying that Infrastructure Australia is to perform a function if it sees fit or on request by the minister to saying that it may do that. This gives Infrastructure Australia’s board the power to not take the request of the minister. It may consider those things if it sees fit, but it has the right to say, ‘No, we don’t see fit,’ and it may or may not act at the request of the minister. We now have an Infrastructure Australia board which is a law unto itself, and that contradicts everything that was promised by the government earlier in terms of Infrastructure Australia taking on issues such as climate change, because it is only in the additional functions and now it may consider whether it does that or not.

I recognise that the amendment has passed, but I am just expressing my alarm that the bill has now been weakened even further to give Infrastructure Australia ultimate power over what it will or will not consider. I would assume that, when this gets to the other place, the government will really look at this seriously, because I cannot imagine it wants to be in a position where Infrastructure Australia can disregard a requirement by the minister. I will support Senator Allison’s improvement to the amendment, but I am seriously concerned about where this is going. I might allow Senator Allison to say something while I think about this.